The gazebo by the Balboa Pier came alive last Thursday night with festive and rhythmic music from a live mariachi band.
Both professional and student mariachi bands played trumpets, strummed guitarrones, vihuelas, and violins, and sang about love, life and land.
“It’s great to see kids getting up there and showing pride in what they do and in their heritage,” said Jose Hernandez, artistic director of the event.
The group was there performing as a part of Jose Hernandez’ inaugural Mariachi Nationals and Summer Institute.
Almost 200 students from across the country convened at the gazebo to ‘jam’ on the first day of the weekend-long event.
“It was so awesome to see them and be able to share our music with them,” Hernandez said, “and let them enjoy southern California.”
The whole event went really well, Hernandez said, everybody was in a good mood and supportive of each other. The students were excited to be there and excited to learn, and many of them made new friends along the way.
The event was sponsored by the Mariachi Heritage Society, founded in 1991 by Jose Hernandez and his wife, Teresa, of Newport Beach.
The week before the competition he was promoting the 30th Anniversary album for his group, Sol de Mexico, he said, and the very next week he held the inaugural Mariachi Nationals and Summer Institute and worked with students from across the country.
“I think those were the best two weeks of my life,” Hernandez said.
The summer institute included workshops held at Orange Coast College, and the festival and competitions included jams sessions and performances, including a final show with Hernandez’ professional mariachi band, Sol de Mexico, at the Orange County Fair on Sunday.
The winning high school ensemble was invited to be featured at the 2013 National Association of Music Merchants Show in Anaheim with Sol de Mexico. There were also several awards for best vocal, trumpet, violin, guitar, vihuela, guitarron, and overall instrument.
Jose Perez, 18, of North Side High School in Fort Worth, Texas, won the individual Jose Hernandez Best Overall Vocalist Award. As part of his prize for winning, he went on to perform with Hernandez and Sol de Mexico at the OC Fair.
“I’m pretty nervous, but excited too,” he said before the competition.
There are some really good groups here, he said, noting the Las Vegas group, Mariachi Acero, who won the best overall high school group. Espuelas de Plata from Fort Worth was the middle school winner.
The institute taught students how to read and work with their instrument and gave them tips on how to excel at their instrument. Hernandez recommended the students take a classical class to learn all aspects of their instrument and become a really fine-tuned and well-rounded musician.
Mariah Hugh, 16, of Fort Worth, Texas, said she has been learning a lot, including how to improve her technique, the different ways she can play a song and be more comfortable and play without straining
She really enjoyed the jam session, she added.
Perez said he has really enjoyed his experience in the competition and workshops.
“It’s been very impressive,” he said. “It’s very meticulous.”
The instructors help with every detail and make sure every point is perfect.
He has learned a new techniques, how to be more careful, and how to perfect his style.
The group we can incorporate the new techniques for sones that they learned in class during their performance. It’s not a major difference, he said, but it helps.
Hernandez has held conferences in different locations across the United States, but this is the first time anything like this has been held in Orange County. He has been involved with the music here since the late 1980s.
“I thought it was time to offer a summer institute in California,” he said.
He would like to see more California schools have a mariachi program.
Many of the students also play in their school’s marching band, he noted. It’s all about getting them engaged in something positive, he said.
“The foundation tries to step up to the plate here in California,” Hernandez said, by getting youth involved with mariachi.
“I think more people should join, or know about it, because it’s a really wonderful culture to be a part of,” Hugh said.
The competition and classes from Hernandez are a great way to learn, she said.
“Jose Hernandez is a very good promoter of mariachi,“ Perez said. “He’s very passionate about the music.”
The jams session at the restaurant was a highlight for Hernandez, he said. All the kids visited his restaurant, Cielito Lindo in South El Monte, had dinner and watched his group, Sol de Mexico, play. After closing they had their own personal jam session up on stage.
Hernandez also gave several high-quality instruments to students during the competition, including a $4,000 trumpet. About $10,000 worth of instruments were given out to deserving students over the weekend.
“We determined who deserved it and would make the most of it,” Hernandez said. “Some came to tears… They loved it… It was the icing on the cake.”
They were able to break even this summer, but Hernandez hopes to receive some sponsors or local business support next year, he said. He would also like to get the classrooms donated and a sponsor for the printing costs, he said, because both can be very expensive.
“It’s a totally positive summer experience,” for the kids, Hernandez said. “Kids involved in music
Hernandez is expecting the attendance to almost double next year.
It’s great to get the kids involved and to see them excited about it, he said.
When Hugh was going into sixth grade, she didn’t want to do orchestra and the school she was attending, J.P. Elder Middle School, had a mariachi band.
“I could still play the violin and it wasn’t orchestra,” she said. “I just joined and been a part of it ever since.”
“I like the feeling, the emotion, they put into the mariachi music,” she said. “It’s not just music, it’s passion.”
Without mariachi, she said, the musician feels like a part of them is missing.
“It’s something they can’t just detach themselves from,” Hugh said.
It’s in his heritage, said Hernandez, who is a fifth generation mariachi musician and can trace his mariachi roots back to 1879, to the birthplace of mariachi, Jalisco, Mexico.
“Mariachi shows a beautiful side of Mexican culture,” Hernandez said. “When it comes to our music, we are so passionate. It’s a big part of our personality.”